Project Erich, Belgian entrepreneur Guido Dumarey’s plan to save the locally-developed Holden Commodore from death at the end of 2017, will kick into high-gear in the New Year.
In an exclusive interview with motoring.com.au at his Strasbourg, France, headquarters last Thursday, Dumarey said his shock bid to keep Commodore, and the Elizabeth plant in which it is built alive, must be signed off in 2016 with most of the heavy lifting completed in the first six months of the year.
“Everything is planned,” the 56-year old told motoring.com.au.
“The next step is to inform all the parties with the right plan.
“And it happens next year. The announcement is that they will close in the end of 2017. In the first six months of next year we must work very hard to find solutions.
“Two thousand and sixteen is the key year. After ’16 we must not think about it, because all the programs have started to stop and it’s too late.”
Dumarey’ 33-year career as an entrepreneur covers multiple industries but his passion is the motor industry. The trained automotive engineer has made a specialty out of buying businesses in financial strife, or earmarked for closure, and resuscitating them.
He is convinced he can take the Zeta architecture that underpins the Commodore and develop a premium range of rear and all-wheel drive vehicles from it for local and export sales. He also sees the Commodore utility as the basis of a dual-purpose light commercial range that could be sold here and overseas.
Premium vehicles the key
Dumarey acknowledges he would have to rename and rebadge the line-up but is confident that is a solvable issue. He believes a dealer network can quickly be sourced locally and internationally.
In a touch of humour that shows his deep automotive knowledge, Dumarey has christened his ambitious plan Project Erich. The name references Erich Bitter, the veteran German tuner who has used the Commodore as the basis of a series of bespoke, high-performance models.
“The auto industry in Australia is in fact a premium auto industry, a rear-wheel drive industry,” Dumarey said.
“To me rear-wheel drive is premium.
“When you see today what Alfa Romeo is doing with Giorgio platform with Giulia. They go back to where they were and it was big mistake to stop rear-wheel drive vehicles.
“I think with the platform you have from Zeta … It’s the perfect platform.”
Dumarey already has a link to Holden as his transmission plant supplies the 6L45 six-speed auto for the the V6 engine used by the various Commodore short and long wheelbase derivatives.
Dumarey’s bid to take over the Commodore’s Zeta architecture and the Elizabeth plant were exclusively revealed by motoring.com.au on November 27. The scoop also confirmed Dumarey’s strong support from South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon.
At the time, Dumarey would not comment to motoring.com.au about his plan other than to confirm three trips to Canberra to lobby for support from federal parliamentarians since the plant’s closure was announced in late 2013 and the swap to an imported front-wheel drive Commodore revealed.
Holden has stated categorically it had received no approach from Dumarey directly or indirectly via its parent General Motors. But it has said it will consider offers for the plant.
In the interview last week at Punch Powerglide, the automatic transmission plant he purchased from GM in 2012, Dumarey revealed he had intentionally not approached Holden.
He said the five years it took him to buy the Strasbourg plant from GM had taught him that he had to get government onside to successfully prosecute deals like this. He said the multi-billion-dollar federal and state government investment in Holden’s plant and development meant his proposal should be listened to.
“The politic must do its role,” Dumarey said.
“The politic must say ‘listen, we have invested in this company, we cannot accept that you close it. Look for something else, but do not close it. You don’t need it any more, okay you don’t need it’.
“But it must be good for the region. What is good for the region is good [for] the image of the Holden brand. It’s good for the loyalty.”
Dumarey said he was seeking a fair deal to take over Elizabeth, a license to develop Zeta and access to funding from the the Automotive Transformation Scheme to aid model development.
“I think we must find a solution that is good for all parties,” he said.
“It must be fair for the country, for the brand loyalty. It must be fair for everything and that is important.”
Not his first rodeo
Dumarey negotiated supportive terms for his takeover of the Strasbourg plant, which had been announced as closing in 2014 at the cost of 1000 jobs. GM provided purchase guarantees for the first two years of operation and free license to develop the 6L40 and 45 automatic transmissions.
The plant is now ramping up to 1350 employees and is expanding courtesy of a 250 million Euro investment to build the 8HP50 automatic transmission for ZF. BMW is now its biggest customer.
But not all Dumarey’s business ventures have been successful. His ownership of BBS wheels was a bust and his involvement with another transmission company, Punch Powertrain, hit the rocks in the global financial crisis.
“Let us say for 80 per cent of the population I am a risk taker,” he said.
“But everything is a risk. Without a risk there is not any business.”